Lessons Learned in my Grief

Written By: Julie Thomas, Director of Victim Services and Education

After my son died in 2016, my life froze. It froze into an existence of trying to figure out how to navigate the world without part of me here. I have four amazing children and to lose one is to lose part of my heart and soul. That knee jerk-reaction was to jump off a cliff to stop the pain, but the afterthought of that thought was that I’d harm my other children and I don’t have a cell in my body capable of ever purposely harming them….so the cliff idea was thrown out.

Without the cliff idea being viable, my next option was to cry, scream, sleep, eat, and eventually, fall into a routine of going to work and going home…occasionally going out with kids or family to remind myself that there was a life out there, I just had to survive long enough to want to reach out for it. 

Grief looks like many things…it’s gaining weight because you don’t want to leave your home, it’s dust bunnies under the furniture because no one comes over so you don’t care (and you don’t want anyone coming over anyway), it’s pushing back sweet memories because the awful ones often follow, it’s that awkward awful moment you tell someone about your child and they shudder in horror thinking that kind of tragedy is hitting too close to home, it’s the hundreds of times a day some small thing reminds you of the child you lost and you go back a step, it’s the tears you hold back when you are around your other children because you want to be the strong one for them. 

Grief is thousands of other things as well – too many to mention. Buried in that grief are lessons learned – that if you survive long enough, you start to see……here are the ones I’ve learned so far:

1.      People that love you WILL listen if you tell them…anything

2.      Crying will not kill you, neither will a broken heart or soul, it will feel like it but you will get to the other side

3.      The other side does not mean you feel less of a loss or love your lost child any less, it means you are finding a new normal without a piece of you

4.      That new normal is like having a phantom limb, it’s not there but it’s always there…my son is there with me in a thousand ways every day

5.      Some things you ignore in your grief get screwed up….like my domain for my blog…it expired and I lost it and had to come up with a new one…but it was fixable and is even better (Thank you GoDaddy)

6.      Getting up and getting dressed is a step forward every time you do it (and drink a glass of water)

7.      Those who haven’t lost a child can’t really get your pain but they can care and have sympathy – don’t discount people willing to reach out and support you. Just because they haven’t had your loss doesn’t mean they are any less a part of your new normal

8.      There will be good days and absolutely horrible days, days where you relive the really bad parts. Gradually the good days will outnumber the bad, and you will wake up feeling like a human who can smile without guilt

9.      When someone says they are sorry for your loss, accept that. Often the only thing people can do is apologize because words fail the loss of a child. They aren’t being thoughtless; they are offering what they have to give

10.  No one needs to understand your journey to have compassion for it, but surround yourself with people who give you the space to make that journey without questioning what it looks like

11.  The profound loss of a child gives you crystal clarity about what is really important and what is really precious in this world. That has been the one gift in losing my son, the clarity

My lessons may not be your lessons, but maybe some of them will be helpful. Just believing things will get better, will bring positive energy to your life and will help…believing costs no energy, it’s a turn of thought in a positive direction. It is possibility.

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"With the help of VSS, you are empowered and encouraged to fight back and be pro-active. Then your conscience can be more at peace because you know you have taken some action to protest crimes inflicted on your loved one. It is sometimes your only consolation."

“The one takeaway for me in working with VSS is that it is a necessary organization. I know they are funded by grants and fundraisers but it’s something we need to make sure as a community that they have the funding needed because what they do for people in need doesn’t happen anywhere else. This is the only place that this happens and VSS helps with so many things.”

David Rose

Anchor, Q13 News and Host, Washington’s Most Wanted

“VSS is there when the unthinkable happens.  When a police officer knocks on your door and gives you tragic news, VSS helps navigate the court system, which can be very confusing. VSS is compassion, caring, and commitment. Commitment to once justice is done that victims and their families can move forward with their lives.”

Jennifer Gregerson

Mayor, City of Mukilteo

“VSS has been our partner in recovery and healing and a key part in what makes Mukilteo Strong. VSS has been a trusted advocate for the victims that have suffered so much in the community.  I’m so grateful to VSS as our partner in strength.”

Jon Nehring

Mayor, City of Marysville

“VSS is there for people in their darkest hour. At a time when they need an advocate and friend, VSS steps in to fill that gap and help them begin their journey back to some sense of normalcy.” 

Myrle Carner

Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound

“This thing about closure. There is never really closure in a victim’s life but VSS helps individuals to get closer to that and that’s critical because the cops and the judicial system just move on to another case because they don’t have time. Victims live with this trauma forever so VSS is with them for as long as they need the services. VSS takes the time, more importantly, they really care."

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